Smoking With Michael Czyzniejewski

by Beth Thomas Read the Story September 29, 2010

Are you a dog person? Are you a plastic surgery person? Are you a dog plastic surgery person?

I am not a dog person in the sense that I turn into a dog ever, like cat people from “Cat People” turn into panthers and shit. But I think you mean do I like dogs; yes, I like dogs a lot.

Plastic surgery is something I admire as a concept. I have lizard skin on my elbows, too much hair on my shoulder blades, and there’s this mole in my armpit that’s looking lot like a freeze-dried craisin these days. I don’t think that fixing any of these procedures is on my priority list financially, though. But wait, how much does Smokelong pay for a story again?

As for dogs having plastic surgery, who am I to speak for dogs? Woof, that’s what I say. And bark ruff ruff for good measure.

How did this story begin? With the idea for Boxer’s new smile, the narrator’s heist, or something else?

I think there was the thought of dogs having plastic surgery, how I’d heard that such a thing existed. That was one idea. I’d also had the notion of someone, a middle-aged guy, having to pee before and after a shower, how the body stats breaking down in ways you don’t expect, subtle as they may seem. Then I looked for a way to combine them, which is what I do with a lot of my stories: Combine two or three elements I think are odd or interesting and try to form a start. I think I knew soon after that I wanted to make the narrator practical, reacting to the craziness around him, but at the same time, take things out of his control.

Where can we imagine the story goes from there?

Mexico.

You are the Editor of Mid-American Review and you have published a Dzanc book called Elephants in Our Bedroom. Tell us about these things. Do you find it more difficult to edit such a prestigious publication, or to write your own collection? How do you balance the two?

I think it’s harder in most ways to write your own book. It’s not easy being an editor–lots of things to do, lots of people counting on you–but that’s something that can be done with lots and lots and effort. Writing takes lots and lots of effort, but a lot more, too. There skill, drive, luck, perseverance, etc. More than anything, both take a lot of time. Considering that I teach a full load, too, it’s hard to manage. Sometimes the editing stuff gets behind–I’m barely at MAR’s response time with the fiction–but more often than not, because more people are looking to me to succeed with the MAR stuff, I decide not to write on certain days And that’s probably the hardest thing, because if that happens too often, I start to get little mad at the editing stuff, at MAR. Nothing major, mind you, though MAR and I did visit a therapist a couple of times. But that turned out to be a sex therapist, which was weird, but really, it worked, so don’t knock it till you try it.

You recently guest edited for us here for SmokeLong Weekly… how was that experience? Do you find that we get different types of submissions than you do at MAR?

Editing that was like doing MAR‘s Fineline competition (which we’re reading right now), our contest for short shorts and prose poems, just one short piece after another. It’s my favorite thing to read here at MAR, so it was nice. I imagine there was a lot of overlap, that some of the same writers who send to the Fineline send to SLQ, but there was also a whole different voice to it all, a different perspective. And the piece I picked, plus a few more, were really outstanding. As an editor, like as a reader, that’s all you can hope for.

About the Author:

Michael Czyzniejewski grew up in Chicago and now lives in Ohio, where he teaches at Bowling Green State University and serves as editor-in-chief of Mid-American Review. Recent stories have appeared or are forthcoming in Alaska Quarterly Review, Bellingham Review, The Los Angeles Review, Monkeybicycle, Moon City Review, and the anthologies Best of the Web 2009 and You Must Be This Tall to Ride. His debut collection, Elephants in Our Bedroom, was released by Dzanc Books in early 2009.